Dear Kid Whisperer,
I have a very loud daughter. Her volume is always turned all the way up. I find myself telling her she needs to be quiet, but I really don’t like that message. Do you have a better one-liner than “be quiet”? -Anne, Honolulu, Hawaii
My daughter used to be loud, too. She is still loud: during the times when it is appropriate. During other times, she has to be quieter. Learning to use certain behaviors at certain times is part of learning to be a human being within a society. We aren’t teaching our daughters to be quiet as a personality trait, we’re just teaching them to be quiet when it’s appropriate to be.
I like your instinct to avoid bossing your kid around all the time. Constantly ordering your kid to have a lower tone of voice is annoying for you and for her. This annoyance on your daughter’s part is likely to turn into resistance. Even a verbal one-liner may be a bit too intrusive for everyday use. Instead, you can use a Gentle Guidance Intervention. The moment your daughter’s voice approaches a too-loud level, use a pained expression while putting your hands over your ears. If she isn’t looking at you when she breaks the sound barrier, you can say “yeesh” while doing these physical movements, and/or you can gently put your hand on her arm or back before using the pained look.
These interventions almost definitely won’t be very effective without using a Learning Opportunity when they fail. When your daughter blasts through these interventions meant to gently guide her towards having an indoor voice level, this is how I would deal with it. Let’s say we’re at a restaurant:
Kid: SO THAT’S WHEN I SAYS TO THE GUY, ‘WHAT DO I LOOK LIKE, THE QUEEN OF EQUADOR?!?!?!!?’
Kid Whisperer: Yeesh. Looks like you need to work on having an indoor voice. We will deal with this later.
The next day, at home, when all is well…
Kid Whisperer: Yeesh. Honey, I love to hear what you have to say, but you are currently struggling with having an indoor voice that doesn’t hurt people’s ears. You know what that means, so I will spare you a boring lecture, but I do require that you have an indoor voice at certain times.
Kid: BUT I KNOW SO MANY WORDS AND ENJOY SHARING THEM WITH THE WORLD AT MAXIMUM VOLUME!!!!
Kid Whisperer: Yeesh. I hear you, as do the neighbors. Right now, you currently struggle with not hurting people’s ears. So, it is my duty as your parent to teach you how to not hurt people’s ears. You won’t be going into public, except for school, until you can leave people’s ears alone. Here at home I will notice whether or not you have an indoor voice. I’ll guide you just by saying one word, “Yeesh,” If you get too loud. I’m just using that word so I don’t boss you around. I’ll probably also look like a person with hurt ears. Every time you hear that word and see me look like that, it’s just a sign that you need more coaching to get good enough to get back to being in public. I’m not mad or anything, it just means that you still need to keep working at it.
Kid: HOW LONG WILL THIS TAKE!!?!?!?
Kid Whisperer: That depends on how quickly you can learn this. I will let you know when your voice level is on the right track so you can learn as fast as possible. I’ll love you no matter what!
Once Kid attains proper voice level proficiency, the Gentle Guidance Intervention described above will be significantly more effective while in private and in public. You should not have to keep creating more and more learning opportunities in the future!